Ontario-born NHL player Ryan O'Reilly did a good thing. After enduring a terrible incident of racism at a hockey tournament in Quebec last year, a team of First Nations hockey players have just been rewarded for their bravery and integrity. The team's recognition came directly from a hockey superstar; each hockey player on the First Nations team was personally invited to an NHL game by St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O'Reilly.
The team, First Nation Elites Bantam AAA, had been subjected to racist chants at a youth tournament in May 2018. O'Reilly and his mother, Bonnie, were inspired to invite the team to a St. Louis Blues game against the Ottawa Senators after she read about the team's experience.
Footage from last year's Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA tournament was recorded on video, demonstrating the First Nations hockey team being heckled and taunted by the opposing team, as well as by people in the stands.
The end of the video captures a person yelling "Gang de sauvages" or "Gang of savages" from the stands. The video is 43-minutes in duration and surfaced on Facebook after the tournament finished. The original video has since been taken down.
"It was very sad. It breaks my heart that anyone would treat children in that fashion," Bonnie O'Reilly told a reporter during an interview with stlouisblues.com. She explains that she felt compelled to support the players in any way she could.
The First Nation Elites Bantam AAA consists of hockey players between the ages of 13 and 15 from Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.
Ryan O'Reilly has extended an NHL game invitation to a team of First Nations hockey players who were subjected to racist chants at a tournament last year.DETAILS >> https://t.co/XEUO4bQgBS#stlblues | #HockeyTwitter | #HockeyIsForEveryone@FrankDangelo23 pic.twitter.com/1RF17VutkM
Ryan O'Reilly, of the St. Louis Blues, will host a minor hockey team that was subjected to racial taunts during a tournament. They will get the full game day experience when the Blues face the Sens in Ottawa.
"I think both me and my mom were upset about it. That's not what the game is about," Ryan O'Reilly added in the interview. "We say 'hockey is for everyone,' and that was just disgusting."
The First Nations hockey team is scheduled to stop by the St. Louis Blues' morning practice, where Ryan O'Reilly and a number of his teammates will personally greet the team. The team is then expected to go out for lunch with Bonnie O'Reilly, alongside her husband, Brian, to eventually return to the stadium in the evening for the game.
Bonnie is going the extra mile by presenting the players with gifts, such as T-shirts and helmet stickers from Players Against Hate, an organization specializing in raise awareness and prevent racism in youth sports.
The team's manager who filmed the video footage at the tournament, Tommy Neeposh, previously explained to CTV Montreal that his team is all too familiar with the racist remarks demonstrated during the tournament. "The war cries (were) the worst," he said. "Telling our boys that you guys don't belong, your team sucks, Native kids can't play hockey, they can't skate."
Neeposh also remarked to CTV Montreal that although he and his team confronted both the referees and the host team, the Quebec Bulldogs, no action was taken on the team's behalf to halt the racist taunting.